Theatre Preview: Chocolate Jesus and the Soft Machine

By Paul Jarvey

Think of a gin-soaked breeze from hell, painted over a Brechtian rock opera dredged out of one of David Lynch’s dreams and you’re somewhere close. The Black Rider brings insanity and bliss shuffling across the stage like the devil himself. Where no fairytale is safe from the tattered ravages of the streets of a proverbial New York, shadows are stained with nicotine and lies, and lessons don’t come cheap. You’ll find yourself either loving or leaving this tour of the twisted.

Based on the German/Bohemian folktale Der Freishütz, rewritten as The Fatal Marksman by Thomas de Quincy, the play sifted through the minds of tarmac-voiced sub-rock icon Tom Waits, junkie beat poet William S. Burroughs, and the obsessively experimental theatricist Robert Wilson to come out the other side as Black Rider. “It’s images for your dreams,” says Michael Scholar, Artistic Director of the production and plays Peg Leg, Burrough’s twisted incarnation of a duly maniacal Satan. As Jane Hogan put it after watching Scholar at the New York Fringe Festival, “Heroin chic never looked so good or slinked around stage so well.” Or, as Scholar notes in far more personal terms, “I’m a sexy little devil.”

As so much does, it starts with love. A dorky and clueless clerk named Wilhelm falls head over heels with a girl whose father insists she marry a skilled hunter and his advances are spurned. Luckily, Wilhelm nails a blue light special à la Faust–Satan provides him with magic silver bullets never missing their mark. Needless to say, his relationship capital is considerably improved. But deals with the devil never quite work out as planned. Wilhelm quickly finds the power of the magic bullets addicting and his world begins to decay. He’s caught in the wickedly sensuous, expressionistic woods dark with blood and where his bullets develop minds of their own.

“These bodies, colours, lights, style,” continues Scholar, “will haunt the dreams of the audience. The world of Burroughs is dark, macabre and full of ethical conflicts that are still alive. And Waits is not like anything else. This [operetta] is somewhere completely different, somewhere deep in the pacific between Germany and America.”

Simmering with a tale of death and madness, this macabre cabaret is accompanied by the Devil’s Rubato Band, a three-person orchestra quickly making a name for itself. Featuring Liz Han, an accomplished jazz and rock pianist formerly of ’80S chic-metal band Godiva, Dale Ladouceur (Mavens and Broke Ensemble) and Corine Kessel (formerly of the Mad Bombers Society) and the skank-late reggae punk ensemble Los Furios.

Critically acclaimed thus far on its extensive tour, the Black Rider is a deliciously wild and textured concoction you’ll love or hate, but should definitely not miss.

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